So the big news today was obviously that fashion doyen Gai Waterhouse had criticised Julia Gillard for looking drab while touring the Japanese towns that had been utterly destroyed by the tsunami.
And I have to say, Gai is on the money. How dare the PM of this country not turn up at a scene of devastation without a beaut looking fascinator and a frock that would pass muster in the mounting yard on Cup day?
I do have to take issue with Ms Waterhouse though. When she decided to begin making comments outside of her usual orbit of horse racing, someone should have taken her aside and told her that criticising the fashion sense and general deportment of Julia Gillard is Niki Savva’s job, and she is more than capable of doing it without help from some upstart Sydney racing identity.
Tony Abbott of course would never demean himself by making light of a woman’s looks – I mean the guy is the Opposition leader, and father of three daughters. So I guess we’ll just put it down to a “Gai moment” when in a pub on Christmas Island he
“… drank shots with fly-in, fly-out workers, played pool with the navy and got a loud cheer when he told a blonde perched at the bar that she was "better looking than Julia".
Yep, that is our alternate PM.
Geez. This is politics, 2011.
Actually the big news of the day was the release of the inflation figures which showed a bigger than expected increase in the last quarter CPI of 1.6 per cent (for an annual CPI of 3.3 per cent).
The reason? Well the cyclones and floods are the main ones. Food went up by 2.9 per cent (mostly due to fruit and vegetables – bananas increased 100 per cent and cauliflowers, broccoli, lettuce, pumpkin and potatoes also went up – though who cares about broccoli is beyond me…). Petrol went up by 8.8 per cent and pharmaceuticals increased by a whopping 12.5 per cent.
All in all a nice perfect storm of big hits.
The RBA does not worry too greatly about the headline figure, and instead looks at the “weighted mean” which came in at a bit nicer level of 0.8 per cent (a rise from the last quarter of 0.5 per cent). Oddly the annual weighted mean did not increase – it stayed flat at 2.2 per cent (because the quarter it replaced this time last year was also 0.8 per cent). So while that might look ok, the problem is in the intervening quarters the weighted mean was 0.5 per cent – which means unless the inflation rate falls to those levels the annual rate will keep going up.
And if that happens, so to, one may suppose, will interest rates.
Now before we get too panicky we should have a look at inflation and interest rates over the past decade:
As you can see we are bumping along quite nicely, and the recent interest rate rises seem to have had an impact – unlike the situation from February 2006 to August 2008 where interest rates and inflation both went up – not a nice place to be.
If we look at the old Misery Index of Unemployment + Inflation, we see things aren’t as low as they were at the tail end of the Howard years in September 07 – when unemployment was at 4.2 per cent and inflation at 2.6 per cent, but we’re still doing pretty well:
But the bond market has already factored in an interest rate rise for the end of the year (and of course the bond market is never ever wrong).
What the inflation rise does give Swan is another reason for delivering a “tough budget” – all in the name of reducing inflationary pressures. This is of course true, however inflationary pressures come not only from Government deficits – they can come from Governments who fall in love with budgets in surplus but who fail to address infrastructure and skills shortages (both of which require expenditure – just remember, not all Government expenditure is inflationary).
The other big news – which flowed over from yesterday – was that of asylum seekers. Remember those halcyon days back in February when Scott Morrison was being castigated for attacking Muslims and Chris Bowen was even being asked by the media to show more compassion? Oh what a bright shiny balloon of humanity that was.
Yeah forget that. That balloon has well and truly been pricked.
A sad orphan boy is one thing, but three blokes burning down buildings in Villawood Detention Centre and sitting on a roof?
Interview with Steve Price, MTR
Steve Price: The minister's on the line. Thanks for your time.
Chris Bowen: Pleasure Steve, good morning.
Price: Morning. Are there still protestors on the roof at Villawood?
Interview with James Carleton, ABC Radio National
James Carleton: Chris Bowen is the Minister for Immigration and he is with us now on Radio National Breakfast. Good morning minister.
Chris Bowen: Good morning James, nice to talk to you.
Carleton: First to Villawood. An update on the roof-top protestors please.
Sigh. And let me tell you they aren’t interested in compassion:
Price: I think the Australian people would like the minister – you – or the government that you work for, to get tougher. I think we're sick and tired – as you said at the beginning of this interview, minister – this is not the Australian way of doing things. We wouldn't put up with this if it were prisoners at Goulburn jail or at, in any other prison around the country.
Ah yes, let’s just put aside the fact that the three men are not actually in Goulbourn jail for crimes, and in fact are not “prisoners”, but hey, I guess Steve Price speaks for the Australian people, so who am I to point out facts…
In response to the protestors in Villawood and Christmas Island, Bowen has decided to increase the penalties for “manufacture, possession, use or distribution of weapons by immigration detainees will increase from three to five years' imprisonment.”
Is this a thing that will be applauded by the right wing shock jocks?
Interview with Nick McCallum and Justin Smith, 3AW Breakfast
Smith: I think – look, I think – that's fine, don't misjudge me, I'm not saying that you don't need it, but I'm picking up on Nick's point here, is that it's window-dressing. If you're just increasing it to five years, when is the last – I think it's an important question, when's the last time a person had a weapon, used a weapon, tried to sell a weapon in detention and received a three year penalty. What's the bloody point of putting it up to five years if we've never – nobody's ever been done for three years?
Bowen: Look, I agree with you that you do need to prosecute, and of course prosecutions under our system are handled separately from the government. The Director of Public Prosecutions handles that. But what government's do is send the signal to the courts and to people thinking of committing crimes is to how seriously we consider them by setting the appropriate sentence.
Smith: Couldn't you send the signal by actually somebody getting three years in the first place?
Yep, we should live in a society where the Government can decide how long each person gets sentenced. Who needs that pesky separation of powers – what has that ever done for us?
Bowen also announced he was getting tough on asylum seekers. We know this because here’s the title of his media release telling us:
Tougher character test to send clear message
The problem is the “clear message” being sent is this (via The Oz):
Temporary visas aimed at improving detainees' behaviour 'a return to Howard days'
and this (via The Age)
Ghost of Howard looms over asylum policy
You see part of the change in policy is that those refugees who fail the character test (which is being amended so that any crime committed while in detention will cause you to fail it) will now instead of gaining a permanent visa will be granted “temporary visas”.
Now when I first heard that the ALP was proposing introducing Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) I thought, well that’s it. The ALP might as well disband, because TPVs are one of the few verifiable failures of Howard’s asylum seeker policy, and if the ALP was re-introducing them, well why bother with anything?
Thankfully they are not actually doing that – and don’t take my word for it, even The Oz’s own Editor at large, Paul Kelly, understands it:
Has Labor retreated to John Howard's policy? No, it hasn't. Howard applied the temporary protection visa across the board while Labor will apply it only in the small number of cases arising from convictions.
But Kelly also knows that this does not matter:
Have Abbott and shadow immigration minister, Scott Morrison, been given a useful propaganda weapon? Yes, they have. They will argue, in Abbott's words, this concession "is a damning admission of Labor's failure".
To whit – all the headlines talking about the Howard days, even though the Govt is not doing that (well not completely).
But surely Bowen should have seen this coming and chosen a different term? But no, here he is on Monday at a doorstop announcing the policy:
Journalist: Can a person who's genuinely facing persecution back in Afghanistan be sent home because he kicked down a door in Villawood?
Bowen: Let me make it very clear: we are not talking about breaching our international obligations. We will not be returning people who are genuine refugees to a country in which they are in danger. But there are a number of options open to the Government, the Government of the day, in response to any various events that can be applied. They include temporary visas existing under the Act. Those temporary visas can include a requirement to not engage in violent or disruptive behaviour; they can include steps to return them if the situation improves in the home country and they are no longer at danger; they include different rights to sponsor other people into Australia and to travel. Now I'm not pre-empting which visas may be issued to which individuals, but there are a range of temporary visas currently available under the Migration Act.
Gahh!!! “Temporary visas” were always going to be reported as TPVs, even if they are not the same. The visas Bowen is talking about are more akin to “probationary visas” (Heck, there’s a term! One that seems to make sense given they will only apply to those who have committed a crime and those are in effect on probation…). Yes that’s just spin, but geez, the Govt doesn’t need to give the media and the Libs a complete free kick – if they are different from TPVs then don’t call them that and then try and explain the difference. Given them a different name at least!
But still, in the end, what is the purpose? What is the desired outcome?
Well there is the policy outcome of hoping to stop asylum seekers from rioting. Will this do it? Well given the three men are protesting because they have been refused asylum and lost on appeal, they probably won’t care too much about being charged with a crime in Australia. To be honest I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the three men. They seem to have been given full access to the system – a system that as a rule sees most asylum seekers pass – so if they failed, and then lost on appeal, well, there comes a time when you say sorry, but you don’t get over the bar. (The important thing is that the bar is set right – and few people seem to be suggesting it is too high).
Will it stop prospective asylum seekers from rioting? There’s a good chance it will – though I would argue there would be a better chance of this happening if conditions were made better for them.
Then there is the obvious desired political outcome of the issue not being a problem for the ALP. This will never happen – the ALP will never be the most favoured party on asylum seekers. They never, ever will. Never. Ever.
They should just accept this and realise that it really doesn’t matter that much. Peter Brent in The Oz wrote today:
If elections were only, or even mostly, about ‘border protection’, the ALP would never win one again. But they are largely decided by incumbency and economic security.
I agree completely. Last year when Gillard was trying desperately to appear tough on asylum seekers I wrote:
On Sky News today while waiting for Julia Gillard’s speech to the Lowy Institute, it was breathlessly announced that asylum seekers would be "the most important issue at the next election".
Bollocks, says I.
The most important issue at the next election, like every single election, will be the economy.
And yet the ALP worries and worries and worries about the issue, and thus it gets “tough”. And so how does the Liberal Party respond?
"This idea that you should reward rioters with temporary protection visas is just wrong," the Opposition Leader said.”
Geez. This is politics in 2011.
What this chasing the tough image on asylum seekers does to the ALP however is reflected in the Essential Media Report poll results today:
Look at that bottom issue “Clear about what they stand for” – the Liberal Party scores 44%; the ALP only 28%. The only category in which the ALP scores worse is on “Keeps its promises” (though having 72% say it will do anything to win an election ain’t good either).
Doing what people expect is actually a pretty crucial thing in politics. It is one of the reasons why Turnbull struggles a bit with his NBN attack. The perception is that he would prefer to be the guy in charge of rolling it out, rather than the one charged with destroying it. Ditto the view of Greg Hunt whenever he attacks putting a price on carbon.
The ALP when it is confronted with an issue like asylum seekers – an issue which no matter how “tough” it gets will never be seen as tougher than the LNP, and if it ever does do anything “tough” will find that its policies will be attributed to John Howard – perhaps should ask itself whether it is better to be seen to be “tough” to please people who will never vote Labor, or if it is better to think about what people expect a Labor Government to do on asylum seekers, and do that.
If you’re going to lose an election, better to do it for doing policies that at least you can stand by proudly, rather than ones for which no one gave you any credit, and for which helped confuse all voters about why you are in power in the first place.